Rita -Music by Gaetano Donizetti. Libretto by Gustav Vaez. New English translation by Alejandro Bonatto. Charing Cross Theatre, Villiers Street, London to 20 August 2022. 4 ****. William Russell.

This one act opera was written by Donizetti in 1841 to fill the time while he was waiting for a commission from La Scala – in Paris he met Vaez with whom he had worked before and asked him to come up with something. The result was called Two Men and Woman. It was not, however, performed until 1860 twelve years after his death and after a slow start has become one of his most popular works. There are problems now with the story which is about how Rita (Laura Lolita Peresivana), decided after her first marriage to Gasparo (Phil Wilcox) ended – he was apparently lost at sea – that she was not going to be beaten up by a man ever again and instead would beat up her new husband Beppe (Brenton Spiteri). The whole marital abuse plot leaves a slightly bad taste in the mouth today, much as does The Taming of the Shrew for instance, but to be fair the new translation by Alejandro Bonatto skates neatly over what might have been dubious. He also directs and keeps the action flowing along at speed while the cast – there are no surtitles as it is sung in English – rise to the demands of the score beautifully. They are also comprehensible which is not always the case with opera even in English. Peresivana creates a gorgeous harridan with flaming red hair who bullies the hapless Beppe remorselessly – a dithering worm as played by Spiteri, he eventually turns. Their married life is interrupted by the arrival of Gasparo, every inch a macho male as played by Wilcox, seeking his wife’s death certificate. He has ended up in Canada, has a new rich bride prospect and wants to make sure his first one is dead. She is, of course, very much alive. The battle of the sexes that follows once, at least for me, one gets over the abuse within marriage plot line, proves entertaining, the Faust Chamber Orchestra under Mark Austin do full justice to the score – and Donizetti’s good tunes – and there is a witty set of mobile doors through which people are forever having trouble getting through. Best of all – the singing is as good as it gets.

Rita: Laura Peresivana.

Beppe: Brenton Spiteri.

Gasparo: Phil Wilcox.

Director: Alejandro Bonatto.

Conductor: Mark Austin.

Set & Constume Designer: Nicolai Hart-Hansen.

Lighting Designer: David Seldes.

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